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Arts and Entertainment

Eso Won's Selections for Black History Month

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Since February is Black History month, we asked our friends at Eso Won Books in Leimert Park to recommend ten history books that would provide a balanced overview of black history, filling in any gaps in the American educational system. Included are a number of books that specifically focus on the history of African-Americans in Los Angeles.

Before the MayflowerLerone Bennett

"The black experience in America--starting from its origins in western Africa up to the present day--is examined in this seminal study from a prominent African American figure. The entire historical timeline of African Americans is addressed, from the Colonial period through the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. The most recent scholarship on the geographic, social, economic, and cultural journeys of African Americans, together with vivid portraits of key black leaders, complete this comprehensive reference."

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On Lynchings by Ida B. Wells Barnett

"When she was 23, Ida B. Wells-Barnett launched a crusade against lynching, which became the focus of her long, courageous life. In a series of pamphlets she created a damning indictment of unpunished crimes that was difficult to contest since southern white men who had witnessed the appalling incidents had written the descriptions. This volume contains three of her most influential pamphlets on lynching."

More recommendations after the jump

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America Twin Palms Publishers

"The Tuskegee Institute records the lynching of 3,436 blacks between 1882 and 1950. This is probably a small percentage of these murders, which were seldom reported, and led to the creation of the NAACP in 1909, an organization dedicated to passing federal anti-lynching laws. Through all this terror and carnage someone -- many times a professional photographer -- carried a camera and took pictures of the events. These lynching photographs were often made into postcards and sold as souvenirs to the crowds in attendance. These images are some of photography's most brutal, surviving to this day so that we may now look back on the terrorism unleashed on America's African-American community and perhaps know our history and ourselves better. The almost one hundred images reproduced here are a testament to the camera's ability to make us remember what we often choose to forget."

Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America by Douglas Flamming
"This splendid history, at once sweeping in its historical reach and intimate in its evocation of everyday life, is the first full account of Los Angeles's black community in the half century before World War II. Filled with moving human drama, it brings alive a time and place largely ignored by historians until now, detailing African American community life and political activism during the city's transformation from small town to sprawling metropolis.

Writing with a novelist's sensitivity to language and drawing from fresh historical research, Douglas Flamming takes us from Reconstruction to the Jim Crow era, through the Great Migration, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the build-up to World War II. Along the way, he offers rich descriptions of the community and its middle-class leadership, the women who were front and center with men in the battle against racism in the American West."

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L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression Josh Sides

"In 1964 an Urban League survey ranked Los Angeles as the most desirable city for African Americans to live in. In 1965 the city burst into flames during one of the worst race riots in the nation's history. How the city came to such a pass--embodying both the best and worst of what urban America offered black migrants from the South--is the story told for the first time in this history of modern black Los Angeles. A clear-eyed and compelling look at black struggles for equality in L.A.'s neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces from the Great Depression to our day, "L.A. City Limits "critically refocuses the ongoing debate about the origins of America's racial and urban crisis.

Challenging previous analysts' near-exclusive focus on northern "rust-belt" cities devastated by de-industrialization, Josh Sides asserts that the cities to which black southerners migrated profoundly affected how they fared. He shows how L.A.'s diverse racial composition, dispersive geography, and dynamic postwar economy often created opportunities--and limits--quite different from those encountered by blacks in the urban North."

At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 Taylor Branch

"At Canaan's Edge" concludes "America in the King Years," a three-volume history that will endure as a masterpiece of storytelling on American race, violence, and democracy. Pulitzer Prize-winner and bestselling author Taylor Branch makes clear in this magisterial account of the civil rights movement that Martin Luther King, Jr., earned a place next to James Madison and Abraham Lincoln in the pantheon of American history."

Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas

This oversized softcover, similar to a coffee table book, features the work of the Black Panther Party Minister of Culture, Emory Douglas. Most of the works are cartoons and illustrations from The Black Panther Newspaper, posters and portraits. Douglas' striking illustrations are stark and uncluttered, with strong, dark outlines and graphic backgrounds sometimes reminiscent of Soviet propaganda. Douglas also drew inspiration from traditional folk art, and explored the use of cut-outs and collage to increase visual impact - a technique still seen today in politically charged art. His work was (and is) its own form of protest and activism. Some of the images may be shocking, but art reveals the experience of the artist and the context within which it was made. One political cartoon shows pigs representing LBJ's cabinet hanging from a tree. In another startling graphic image, a faceless figure in fatigues, armed with a rifle, creeps towards the viewer. The caption reads, "In Revolution, one lives or one dies."

Catching Hell in the City of Angels: Life and Meanings of Blackness in South Central Los Angeles

"Moving beyond stereotypes of South Central's predominantly African American residents, Joa o H. Costa Vargas recounts his almost two years living in the district. Personal, critical, and disquieting, "Catching Hell in the City of Angels" examines the ways in which economic and social changes in the twentieth century have affected the black community, and powerfully conveys the experiences that bind and divide its people.

Vargas reveals that the social fault lines in South Central reflect both contemporary disparities and long-term struggles. In doing so, he shows both the racialized power that makes " blackness" a prized term of identity and theterrible price that African Americans have paid for this emphasis. Ultimately, "Catching Hell in the City of Angels "tells the story of urban America through the lives of individuals from diverse, overlapping, and vibrant communities."

The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles

While he was still in his twenties, Horace Tapscott gave up a successful career in Lionel Hampton's band and returned to his home in Los Angeles to found the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra, a community arts group that focused on providing affordable, community-oriented jazz and jazz training. Over the course of almost forty years, the Arkestra, together with the related Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA) Foundation, were at the forefront of the vital community-based arts movements in black Los Angeles...Based primarily on one hundred in-depth interviews with current and former participants, The Dark Tree is the first history of the important and largely overlooked community arts movement of African American Los Angeles. - Amazon

People's History of the United States Howard Zinn

"Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, "A People's History of the United States" is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of -- and in the words of -- America's women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, working poor, and immigrant laborers. This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more."

Book descriptions courtesy of the Eso Won website, except for Dark Tree, which is taken from, and Black Panther, which was written by Elise Thompson for LAist

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